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China repeats opposition to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan

BEIJING (Reuters) - China repeated its opposition to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan on Wednesday, saying they put the peaceful Sino-U.S. relationship at risk, as the Obama administration's decision on a weapons deal for the self-ruled island draws near.

Taiwan, which China views as a breakaway province, hopes to buy 66 late-model F-16 aircraft from the United States, a sale potentially valued at more than $8 billion and intended to phase out its remaining F-5 fighters.

The arms sale debate has been building steam in the United States, with U.S. Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, where Lockheed Martin Corp manufactures the F-16, saying killing the sale would cost valuable U.S. jobs.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu urged the United States to "fully grasp the harmfulness and sensitivity of selling weapons to Taiwan, and avoid harming the peaceful development of Sino-U.S. and cross-Strait relations."

"We resolutely oppose the United States selling weapons to Taiwan," she told reporters.

Taiwan says it needs the jets to counter China's growing military strength.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging the Chinese position that there is "one China" and Taiwan is part of it.

But the United States is also Taiwan's biggest ally and arms supplier and is duty-bound by legislation to help the island defend itself.

U.S. President Barack Obama is due by October 1 to say what, if anything, his administration plans to do to boost Taiwan's aging air force.

Granting Taiwan's request for new F-16 fighter aircraft would merely maintain the island's air power capabilities, not boost them, Lockheed Martin's chief executive said on Tuesday.

The request for the new F-16s has been pending informally since 2006. Taiwan in 2009 also requested an upgrade to its 146 old F-16 A/B models. In 1992, then-President George H.W. Bush sold Taiwan its first F-16s.

Analysts have told Reuters a full package of new jets is unlikely to be approved by the Obama administration, but that it may instead offer Taiwan an upgrade on existing F-16A/B jets worth up to $4.2 billion.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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